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  • In 1980 I’d worked on the air at a variety of radio stations in Houston, Texas for three years. I was working the two am ‘til six am air shift and producing Mike Scott’s morning drive show on KODA 99FM when I heard that one of the local television stations was in the market for a soundman. I knew nothing about TV. I did know how to make radio. I ran a tight board. I’d always wanted to learn television. The job would be like school with pay.

    I worked at KRIV-TV Channel 26 in Houston for 5 years. The gig was great but it sure wasn't radio. I was the audio guy. There were cameramen, grips, a lighting crew and stage managers but only one soundman. If I screwed up there was no one else to blame. I learned everything there is to learn about television production from the ground up.

    I survived three sales. I watched the place go from a local UHF outlet best known as the go-to production house for low budget local commercials, the home of black and white Mexican vampire movies and subtitled Kung Fu classics to a FOX affiliate with network programming and a 24 hour news department.

    Every day we cranked out spots for Crazy J’s Furniture, The Men’s Wearhouse, Starving Artists Group and dozens of used car dealerships and a wide variety of other local businesses. Channel 26 at that time was basically a production house with an antenna outback.

    For me the highlight of the day was the 90 minutes of live local talk shows we produced each weekday morning from 11:30am until 1pm. Live television was nothing like doing a radio show. A radio program was one person in one room speaking into a microphone. A major market radio station might have an engineer playing the records but that was not the case in my experience. I was always on the air alone.

    Live television involved three rooms full of people and equipment connected to and communicating with each other on headsets in order to get the sound and the pictures on the air and into the viewer’s television sets at home in TV land.

    The Warner Roberts Show was a typical women’s talk show with a living room and a kitchen set. Julia Childs cooked there a few times. Heloise with her helpful hints was a regular guest. Warner was a big fan of up and coming New -Age guru Deepak Chopra so he made several appearances over the years.

    The Roger Gray Show ran a full sixty minutes and became a top quality forum for authors, politicians and celebrities of every stripe under the watchful eye of Mr. Gray and his producer Ann Smith. Guests of the caliber of Leon Jaworski, John Henry Faulk and Gore Vidal visited when they were in Houston. Ann Margaret, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arthur Ashe stopped in to chat with Roger. The program came to be considered an important stop on the national talk show circuit.

    The audio man placed the microphones on the sets, ran sound checks from the booth then returned to the studio to ‘mic up’ the guests when they arrived on set. I met many folks who I admired for their work in one genre or another. I enjoyed most the people who were friendly with the crew.

    Ed McMahon was cool as ice and a gregarious fellow, always had a friendly word for every one on the crew. Joey Bishop had a fondness for soda. The white powder not the brown beverage. Bee Spears, Willie Nelson's bass player was a stand up guy, a real class act. Sammy Davis Jr had trouble with the lip sync on Candy Man one morning. No karaoke singer, he! Jay Leno had a smile and funny remark for everyone on the crew.

    When I first met Jay Leno he was working the club circuit. His standup was sharp and inventive. Jay and Roger got along well. Jay was not yet hosting the TONIGHT Show although he was one of Johnny Carson’s regulars. He was consistently charming and professional with the crew. I’d hang a mic on his lapel. We’d exchange jokes. I’d say break a leg and return to the audio booth. We didn’t hang out or go for beers after the taping. We did share a few laughs. Leno appeared on the Roger Gray show two or three times a year for a few years.

    I left Channel 26 in 1985 to start my own video production company and pursue other creative endeavors.

    Fast forward to the summer of 1998.

    I’m working at a casino in Los Angeles with world-renowned conservationist and animal trainer Dr. Bhagavan Antle. Performing the voice over narration in a show I wrote for The Institute Of Greatly Endangered And Rare Species. “Gems Of The Jungle” was a full on stage production featuring lions, tigers, leopards, birds, monkeys, musical numbers, dancers and a chorus. The host was a talking Mandrill baboon, voiced live each show from the control room by yours truly.

    One afternoon in the middle of rehearsal Doc Antle got a call from Joan Embrey with the San Diego Zoo. Joan was scheduled to appear on Jay Leno’s show that evening. She wanted to know if Doc had any tiger cubs or other cute babies he could loan her for the taping. Joan mentioned that this would be an excellent opportunity for Doc to meet Jay, perhaps laying the groundwork for a future appearance on the show.

    We arrived at the NBC studios in Burbank a few hours before taping and set ourselves up in the Green room. We had a group of two-month old tiger cubs and a leopard cub named Lanka. That’s helluva a lot of cute and cuddly!

    After each taping Jay did a photo op session with his audience. Doc Antle suggested on this particular evening Jay and his guests could cuddle a tiger cub as they posed for photos. The TIGERS staff photographer, Wild Bill Melton and I were assigned to hand tiger cubs to Doc who set up the shots with Jay and the audience members.

    Several times throughout the shoot I noticed Jay Leno looking at me from across the stage. We made eye contact once and nodded in an affirmative but non-committal fashion. When all the guests were done it was our turn. Each of the TIGERS staff stood beside Jay for a photo. I handed cubs to Doc and Bill shot the pictures.

    Jay looked straight into my eyes when it was my turn.

    “You look mighty familiar,” he said.

    “So do you” I replied.

    We both laughed. Doc and Bill were watching us with interest. They were never sure what I was going to do.

    “No I mean it. I feel like I know you from somewhere.”

    “ I used to work at Channel 26…”

    “On Roger Gray’s show! You were the audio guy. Sean! You worked renaissance fairs, right? ”

    “Yep. That’s me. I’m impressed!”

    “ I’m good with names and I remember faces. How did you go from TV to working with tigers?“

    “ How is not important, Jay... Avoiding a real job is. And working with tigers is very much like working in television. A big part of the job is dealing with loads of crap!”

    I held up the cub, a beautiful Golden Tabby Bengal, Wild Bill dropped the shutter and the rest, as they say, is history.
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